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Loaiza chosen as fifth starter over Park

Times Staff Writer

Esteban Loaiza looked up curiously when he was approached at his locker by a small band of reporters on Friday.

“What did I do?” he asked.

Unbeknownst to him, Loaiza had been selected the Dodgers’ fifth starter by Manager Joe Torre before the Dodgers’ 3-1 exhibition victory over the Boston Red Sox at Dodger Stadium.

Here’s more of what Loaiza hadn’t been told: He’ll make his season debut on April 8 in Arizona, the first of four scheduled starts in the opening month of the season.

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“That’s good to hear. I’m more hungry after what happened to me last year,” Loaiza said, referring to a season in which he pitched only seven games because of back and knee injuries. Loaiza was waived by the Oakland Athletics and acquired in August by the Dodgers, who picked up his $6.5-million salary.

The guaranteed contract was the reason why Loaiza was favored over Chan Ho Park, who was in camp on a minor league deal, to win the job that was left vacant by the rehabilitating Jason Schmidt.

“I can say I have a lot off my shoulders because Chan Ho was pitching so great,” said Loaiza, who enters his last start of the spring tonight at the Coliseum with a 4.20 earned-run average in 15 innings. Three of the seven runs he gave up came in his first Grapefruit League appearance, which lasted two innings.

Park, who will also make his final outing of the exhibition season tonight, has a 1.69 ERA in 16 innings. Like Loaiza, Park didn’t know that Torre had reached a decision.

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“That’s not what I expected, but we’ll see,” Park said.

Torre said that Park could remain with the club as a long reliever, but pitching coach Rick Honeycutt hinted that he might be sent to triple-A Las Vegas to increase his pitch count so that he could be ready to start for the big league club if necessary.

Final roster decisions will be made Sunday.

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Jeff Kent, who made a game-time decision to play Friday in his first game since March 4, will play the last two games of the exhibition season and will start at second base on opening day if he doesn’t suffer a setback, Torre said.

“Otherwise, we really wouldn’t have made this commitment,” Torre said of playing Kent after he tested his strained right hamstring on the basepaths in warmups and took batting practice.

Kent played five innings and was one for two with a stand-up double to right-center that drove in Andre Ethier in the fourth.

Torre said that although Kent told him that he felt no pain in his leg, he still hasn’t run at full strength.

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Chad Billingsley, who entered Friday’s game with an 8.31 ERA this spring, had seven strikeouts in five innings and appeared to fix his previously out-of-sync mechanics. He gave up one run.

Closer Takashi Saito said there was no doubt in his mind that he would be ready for the start of the season after pitching a scoreless inning against the Angels on Thursday night.

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The game was the first played at Dodger Stadium under the ballpark’s new energy-efficient lights, which have reduced the total number of fixtures from more than 900 to fewer than 500. The lights use half as much energy and produce 50% more brightness, owner Frank McCourt said.

Also seen by the public for the first time was the new field-level concourse that cost $80 million to renovate over the winter. The concourse, which was widened by 15 feet in some areas, includes new dining options and two box clubs.

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dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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